– The passage of the
Gospel we have just heard is a famous and difficult one, isn’t it?
Peter asking Jesus how many times he is supposed to forgive his brother or sister, should he be as generous as 7 times?, and then Jesus replying Peter will have to forgive “Not seven times (…) but seventy-seven times” (In certain translations: 70 times 7!)
– Now I don’t know what you think, but my guts feeling is that it does not make me happy when I hear that. I think it’s difficult to take in. Forgiving again and again and again and seventy-seven times again…How does it look like in real life?
Do you teach your children or grandchildren to let the bully hit them at recess, because they are not to seek revenge?
Do you think (as I’ve heard so many times) that it is fair that so many clergy ask their female parishioners to forgive again and again their abusive husbands or sons?
Somebody posted on tweeter the other day something I think is very accurate. He said:
“Stop using sermons of peace and forgiveness in order to manipulate the oppressed into accepting their oppression”
Indeed the Bible has been used to manipulate people into accepting all sorts of evil in the name of forgiveness, in the name being good Christians, from slavery to clergy abuse, denying women’s rights and so on.
So we really need to think seriously about what Jesus is saying to us today. Is Jesus really saying that it does not matter if we’re hurt, we still have to be good and to accept whatever people do to us because we have to forgive, or is it something else?
I think it’s really hard when you’ve been hurt by somebody and what you hear from good Christians is all you have to do is forgive. Why is it so hard?
– It does not acknowledge the hurt you feel (= makes you feel like you make a fuss out of nothing)
– It also denies your sense of justice
– Even worse, it makes you feel like you’re not a good Christian! You’re unable to forgive, that’s bad!!!
But we see in other parts of the Gospel that Jesus has always acknowledged the hurt people felt and never supported the bullies in the name of forgiveness. Jesus sides with Mary when she is criticized by Judas for spending too much money, he sides also with her when her sister calls her lazy. Jesus didn’t like it when people made fun of Zaccheus and so on.
Besides that, Jesus has always asked for justice as well. He asked repeatedly people to share their bread and their wealth, to be compassionate to one another. He didn’t say to the oppressed they just had to accept being taken advantage of or accept to be neglected just because they had to forgive their oppressors.
Jesus has never enabled bullying and injustices. So when Jesus asks us to forgive again and again, it does not mean that when you are a Christian, you just need to hit the reset button each time somebody does wrong to you, forget it all and let people hurt you seventy seven times again because you need to be such a good person!
So what does it mean then, to forgive again and again?
Well, this week we have commemorated the anniversary of 09/11 and as I was watching a documentary about forgiveness I heard something very powerful about this tragedy coming from the families’ victims, they talked about what was for them: “The journey of forgiveness”.
The journey of forgiveness. Suddenly, it made so much more sense to me. Yes, indeed forgiveness never looks like hitting a reset button again and again and let people do you wrong again and again. Forgiveness is a decision you make that starts a process of healing towards a new life – and that’s exactly what some of these families were describing.
Forgiveness starts the process of healing and healing is a journey – and depends on the hurt, healing can be a long journey, sometimes a life long journey. Thinks about how are it can be to forgive our own parents for things that happened 30 or 50 years ago or even more, and we still carry the hurt! And we’re not even sure we’re really reconciled with them!
Forgiveness is a journey and a struggle. It’s a decision you make, the decision to not take revenge, to not wish evil on those who hurt you, to not “make them pay” as in Jesus’s parable, but instead to seek as much as possible reconciliation or a peaceful release of the relationships through the journey and the struggle.
The documentary I watched talked also about the way Amish do forgiveness / what they did after the tragedy of the shooting at West Nickel Mines School. They made the decision to forgive but then they had to carry one another through community, pray, meet the family of the shooter, had painful conversations, prayed again, tore down the building, commemorated etc. They never said that what happened was okay and justice and restoration shouldn’t be sought!
Forgiveness is a decision we make but then we have to walk the walk and it can be long, with detours and back and forth. Sometimes we think we’re over it and then it hurts again, or we realize we are still angry etc.
And maybe this what Jesus tells us actually: When someone hurts you, you are not going to forgive that one time and then all is good. You’ll have to forgive again and again because the hurt comes back, or the consequences of people’s bad behavior are still impacting your life. Everyday, you will have to decide to forgive them all over again.
And you might feel in your heart: Why is it that I still haven’t forgiven? When in fact you are in the process of forgiving.
Another man who was interviewed in the documentary said: “I can’t live thinking all day long about what white people did to my people all day, I would go crazy, I wouldn’t be able to function”. He said he needed to forgive to go on with his life, to set himself free. It didn’t mean that racism didn’t hurt him anymore or didn’t make him angry. He just realized he could not live in resentment and wishing evil for evil.
But how do we do that? How do we walk this walk of forgiveness – go on with our life in spite of the hurt, and not live in resentment?
Well, I think that there is something about this parable that Jesus tells us right after he talks to Peter, and this parable can really show us the way. A man has a huge debt to the King he cannot reimburse, but then the King has pity on him and let him go. Yet then the man who has just been forgiven meets one of his debtors who had a very small debt compared to the one he owed the King, but he refuses to forgive, “makes his debtor pay” and Jesus says he is terribly punished for doing so.
Now there are two ways of understanding this story. The general assumption about what Jesus means is that we are all such terrible sinners in the eyes of God that we should just quickly forget every wrong that is done to us by other people, because compared to what we have done to God, and to what we need to be forgiven for, it’s really nothing.
Okay – well I don’t like at all this interpretation, because I believe that there are people who are seriously innocent and what happens to them, the hurt they endure, is really not nothing compared to what they have done. They really, truly, deeply don’t deserve it. People having their families murdered, people raped, abused or wronged intentionally – Can we tell them that it’s nothing they need to complain about and should quickly forgive because what they did to God was much more evil? If you are hit by your parents when you are a five years old, what wrong have you done to God that is so much more than that? I would run from such a God, honestly. And I think Jesus would too.
So to me, this passage is really about inviting us to focus on God’s generosity – not only on what God has forgiven us, but everything that God has given us and all of life’s possibilities and new chances. This passage is about how goodness comes to us in surprising / unexpected ways (as this slave probably never expected such goodness coming from the king)
To me, it’s something I’ve always found very healing in the midst of hurt and deceptions. To remind ourselves that this is a big world, that we have a big God and that we need to carry on with a big heart. And ultimately, I think this is what the parable is all about. When we are hurt, we can focus on the hurt, on what our offenders owe us, but it will be the path to destruction / self destruction. On the opposite, we can also choose to make the decision not to look so much at the hurt and nurse it inside of us and instead look towards the goodness that God sends our way and how God will raise us towards healing and new life. That’s the journey of forgiveness to me.
Forgiveness is not about changing the past, it’s about changing the future…Read again this passage of Exodus and how the Hebrews were able to leave behind the hurt and the suffering – God opened the sea for them, freed them from the pain and took them on a pilgrimage towards a new land full of promises.